Tau calls time on Parliament

RETIRING: Tau Henare talks to reporters after tweeting he was leaving politics at the election.
RETIRING: Tau Henare talks to reporters after tweeting he was leaving politics at the election.

It's no surprise that when National MP Tau Henare announced his resignation, he did so online.

As it became increasingly clear that he had risen about as far as he would within National, the former Maori affairs minister and NZ First defector turned more to tweeting as an outlet for his frustrated ambitions.

In that sphere, he was both prolific and busy.

His critics would argue that he didn't apply the same energies to his MP's duties.

His old boss, NZ First leader Winston Peters, was noticeably reticent when asked his thoughts on his former protege, saying Henare was "probably very lucky to have survived this long" in Parliament and was unlikely to have been returned after the election.

The pair split acrimoniously in 1998 when Henare led a group of MPs who refused to give up their ministerial offices and join Peters in walking away from the National-NZ First coalition.

Peters said it was only right Henare thanked him for getting into Parliament in the first place but refused to return the praise Henare directed at him.

"I wish him a very happy retirement."

Henare, the self-described "maverick" who entered Parliament in a borrowed suit in 1993, was a member of the infamous "tight five", with Rana Waitai, Tuariki Delamere, Tukoroirangi Morgan and Tu Wylie, who cleaned up the Maori seats for NZ First at the 1996 election and were also famous for their attitude and their Dirty Dog sunglasses.

When he announced his retirement yesterday, prompted by what was likely to be a hefty demotion on the party list, he was serving as chairman of the Maori affairs select committee and a member of the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee.

"I'm happy, I feel really at ease with myself and I know that [after] 15 years in this place I've contributed to New Zealand," he said.

"It's been a humbling experience but it's also been a privilege and a hell of a lot of fun."

He was proud of his ministerial term and to have followed in the footsteps of his great-grandfather Taurekareka Henare, who served in Parliament from 1914 to 1938.

He was still passionate about the job and said MPs gave a huge amount to the country.

"You don't have to agree with them but they do a really good job, and in this country if you disagree with each other we don't bomb each other, we sort of have a beer with each other and more arguments."

Parliament had changed significantly since 1993 but there should always be room for mavericks and jokers, he said.

"I hope that there are some new characters on the block, I hope there are people who are not so bored or boring that they don't show themselves to be passionate in who they are, because this place can overwhelm you."

One of the major changes was the number of Maori MPs.

"When I came in in '93, there was less than a handful, now everybody's got one."

Prime Minister John Key said Henare had decided he'd run his course with National "and ultimately he's had a good run since 2005".

"He's a colourful character; we've enjoyed having him in caucus but it makes sense for him at this time to step down."

Henare was famously embroiled in a scuffle with Labour MP Trevor Mallard in 2007 although he harboured no grudge - a sentiment returned by Mallard who called his adversary one of Parliament's real characters.

Henare ruled out a return to Parliament but did not know what he would do next.

The Dominion Post